Editor’s Note: Andover High School sophomore Elizabeth Bernardin has been volunteering at the Professional Center for Child Development in Andover for more than a year. The sister of a younger brother who is on the autism spectrum and who attended the center, she says she has found the opportunity eye-opening and gratifying on a variety of levels. She shares her experience in this piece.
The summer before high school, I began searching for an organization I could contribute to. I wanted to apply myself outside of school in a setting where I could help and hopefully make an impact. I went to a few different groups before I decided on the Professional Center for Child Development in Andover. The biggest factor in this decision was the fact that my younger brother, William, had attended there. I knew he had benefited, so I wanted to give back to the people who had helped him.
William is on the autism spectrum. I’ve seen how hard he works every day to accomplish the things that come naturally to the rest of us. Whether it was basic things such as making eye contact when being spoken to or eating with a spoon, or more advanced skills such as communicating and interacting with others, William has always had to work extremely hard. It’s been a trying, exciting and rewarding journey as an older sister.
Being someone who lives in a home where autism is such a prominent topic, I felt I could bring some valuable knowledge to the job. And, honestly, it did help a lot, because there were times when a child would do something that strongly resembled William’s behavior. There were many things, however, that I wasn’t prepared for, because each child is unique. I wasn’t prepared for how gratifying this experience would be or for the contagious happiness of the children.